#10 – ALL THERE – ALL THERE [spotify]

(feat. track – “The Road” [spotify])

Apparently, I had a thing for concept albums in 2013. All There’s self-titled debut (and, quite possibly, only) [I’ve now been told there will be more!] release follows the dramatic arc of Jon and Emily, strained lovers voiced by co-vocalists Maxton Stenstrom and Pilot Chmielarczyk, as their relationship crashes and burns, both literally and figuratively, over the course of a full year divided by seasons. Gorgeously crafted and produced, as well as smartly plotted, it’s one of the must fully-realized concept pieces I’ve heard in a long, long time (and, thus, one of the most compelling).

All There isnt without its flaws – for one, the lyrics get awful dodgy on the album’s latter half*. But the steadily increasing emotional heft of the tracks that surround those lyrics more than pick up the burden. For an album that tells a linear story, a surprising amount of the heavy lifting on All There is done by the ambient/experimental soundscapes that undergird the lyrics – the story could likely be told without words at all, though that would deprive us of Stenstrom’s baritone anguish (which would be a real loss). So much is carried in the details – spliced bits of ambient sound, wooshes and blips that add both depth and context, digital drumbeats that quicken and slow like pulses. Snippets of voice mails from the characters’ acquaintances fill out an otherwise insular world, painting Jon and Emily as people with external lives, almost literally fleshing them out, making them feel like real people in the middle of real lived human lives. The result is rich and inviting; I find myself pulled into their world as I listen, the awkward backseat passenger passively suffering their breakdown.

The result is a harrowing but compelling listen – I’ve seen The Antlers’ Hospice mentioned as a comparison, and while that’s not really on point sonically**, it speaks well to both the album’s nauseous themes and its quality. All There is a dark, almost desolate, listen, but its one that kept compelling me to come back in for more.

*Though you could probably argue that they’re true to the characters who, like most of us, aren’t nearly as inscrutable and unknowable and different as they think they are – which, in many ways, is what makes them relatable. There’s something that feels true, if unsettling, in seeing my own emotional banality reflected back at me.

**What is? I hear a lot of Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile and The Downward Spiral – imagine an album-length version of “Hurt” – along with a solid dose of Death Cab For Cutie at their mopey-est, plus a dash of darkwave.